Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rob Roberge Aims to Create and People a Universe of His Own

In the 68th in a series of posts on 2010 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Rob Roberge, author of Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life (Red Hen Press), discusses research, tax deductions, and his favorite authors.

What do you think a good short story collection should deliver? 
For me, a good collection creates a world unto itself. That is, I could see the characters in Amy Hempel’s Reasons to Live all bumping into each other outside of the stories they appear in. The same is true of the early Hemingway pieces, or, say, Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The stories all have a similar tone, a world view that is imbedded in each individual story, but also in the overall book. This is true, of course, with all the linked collections (The Things They Carried, Knockemstiff, Jesus' Son, Monkeys) but also of the non-linked ones. Kafka has a universe he created. So does Angela Carter. A good book of stories becomes a universe of its own. Not a mimetic one of our world, but a creation of their world that comments on ours in some way. That’s what I look for, anyway.

What kind of research, if any, do you do? 
I was on a panel once and someone asked me if I did research. I said I didn’t. On the drive home, my wife Gayle said, “That is such a load of bullshit.”

I said, “I don’t do research.”

She said, “You get totally obsessed with something and then you buy twenty or thirty books on it.”

I told her that’s just being interested in a topic. But she had a point. In a way, I suppose, I do research. But, mostly I think of it as just writing. I suppose my years of drug addiction, too, were a form of research. I wonder if I could write all the money I spent on drugs off on next year’s taxes? 

If you dabble in any other non-literary forms of expression, what do you do and how does it inform your work? 
I play in a few bands…and music informs my writing quite a bit. I think in terms of sentences, in how language flows and how words can sometimes embrace each other or clang against each other. Sentences are a form of music for me. 

Who is your favorite living author and why? 
In a way, I suppose I’m my favorite. I wouldn’t spend countless hours working on anyone else’s shitty drafts, trying to make them good. Seriously? My favorite living author is Francois Camoin—who is incredible. He’s a writer who every time I turn another writer on to his work, they all say, “Why isn’t this guy famous?” Like Love, But Not Exactly and The End of the World is Los Angeles are two of the greatest collections published in the last 50 years. Camoin’s amazing. Why isn’t he more famous? I wish I knew. I would find some evidence of this being a just universe if he were. Probably tied with him is Darrell Spencer who writes some of the best sentences ever written. Lexicographers should check him out to see what great things can be done with all our words when you place them correctly.